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The Magic of Christmas

By Steve Banko

For me, the magic of Christmas starts with music. From those long-ago days of grammar school innocence when the nuns drilled the words of every carol in Christendom into my brain, until today, with innocence a faded memory but the joy of Christmas a constant prayer, I found great delight and consolation in the music of Christmas. Some of my most enduring memories involve those nuns, the songs they taught me, and the way we sang them. It hardly mattered that puberty rendered the male voices in our choir more akin to a pond of bullfrogs than the Vienna Boys Choir. The real magic wasn’t in our voices. It was in the words—in the hope and the promise and of Christmas.

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My Combat Christmas Angel

By Christine Maag

When I was in Iraq, one of the toughest weeks I remember was right before Christmas in 2007. Soldiers on deployment always seemed to have mixed emotions during that time. I mean, on one hand, we wanted to be happy and celebrate the holidays. However, it completely sucked being away from everything, and, well, being in the middle of a desert war! 

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The Kherwar

by Brett Allen

Nasir ran his finger lightly over the map at his knees.  He was stalling now. Thick dust on the abandoned school house floor made the map seem ancient and it frayed at its folds, like the dogeared corners of his uncle’s Koran.  He rubbed his swollen cheek as he thought of his uncle. Read more


by Rodger Schlickeisen

Imagine my good luck.  First time in London.  First time in Europe.  And while sight-seeing at Buckingham Palace, I’d met Araceli, a pretty Spanish girl. We were both waiting to see the changing of the guard.   

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Why We Write: “I Found My Father This Father’s Day Week”

Editor’s Note: When we facilitate Veterans Writing Project creative workshops for veterans and their family members, we tell participating veterans and family members that it’s okay to write for publication, to put your writing in a shoebox for your children and grandchildren, or to shred it.

For Father’s Day, the daughter of a veteran of World War II shares the meaning and connection she found in reading letters written by her father, who served in the US Army XX Corps in Europe.

by Andrea Billups

I found my father this Father’s Day week.

Even as he passed away in 2001, his soul, his spirit, his heart were encased in a box of paper ephemera that I’d carted state to state for nearly a decade. He spoke out from the past as I opened letters and discovered old photos—a man in full, whom I’d never known.

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All Up Round

by Jeff Shearer

Thirty-six of us stood at attention under a July sun that felt like the heat lamp at the Stop&Go. Some of us already were starting to look like the shriveled Polish sausages that you find there on a midnight munchie run. Private Boyle was one of us. He’s from Palmer, like me. In fact, exactly a dozen of us were from Palmer. We’d had the same recruiter.  We even all had the same “Today’s Army Wants to Join You” poster stuck up on our bedroom walls back home. The one with the picture of a bunch of guys playing scratch football on the beach. At the bottom it read “Talk it over with the guys. The gang that enlists together, stays together.”  So that’s just what we did–right after graduation. There was only a handful of kids from Palmer headed to college, and most of them were girls. And none of us were ready to go work next to our dads and uncles at the Kaiser mill. We were hungry for some worldly education. So one Monday morning we all showed up at the recruiting station, signed the forms, and then went and got drunk down by the river. Except for Jimmy Boyle. He sat and watched.

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The Braided Brothers

by Hunter Howe

The first drink of coffee is always the scariest. People never know what to expect. They hesitate for a while, then close their eyes and take a sip. The cup is filled to the brim with mystery until it touches their lips.

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Delta Victor

by Eric Danache

54B Dragon soldier, not as big as a boulder, but with my 50 cal I shall cut you down to pebbles. Life is no longer rose petals, can’t seem to break off these shackles. Many men won vu-ku medals, now they live in the shadows, waiting for their turn for the gallows. Every time the wind blows at my six, I want to reach for my M4. Many times I’ve hit the floor, many men have heard the lion roar, but luckily we are carnivore and mre’s we want no more. We volunteered to serve our country, now we’re getting served arrest warrants.  We aren’t criminals, all we know is violence. All we know is survival. All we know is left, right, left, right, kill. See that blood spill. Push on over that hill. Here pop this pill. Lock and load, watch those bodies explode. You don’t want to mess with the young killer’s squad. We’ll send you real fast to the house of God. I got my saw gun, so you know I’m ready to have fun. You can try to hide from me, but on my Kevlar I got my NVG and I’m backed up by them boys of 11b. We sweated our pain out and cried out our blood. Until the day we fade away, we will always be part of a brotherhood. This one goes out to the brothers and sisters that never made it back, to the ones who are back in the physical, but overseas in the mental, to the ones trying to find their spiritual, to the families of the fallen, to the ones who stopped their grin, to the ones that everyday drink whiskey and gin, to the ones that have been through the thick and thin, to the ones that were once high speed, and now eating out of garbage bins. Never stop, push forward, you still got a purpose. Believe in the good Lord, have faith in him and know that he will always have your six. C-130’s, C-141’s, mass tac, stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door. Jump right out and count to four. Its death from above, so watch out below because we are going to tag your toe. You’re barely average son. We are the silent professionals and flow like a thirty round clip of 5.56. You are the enemy, so watch out because our divarty will land precisely and heavily on your locality and it’s your turn for group therapy. Leave you no chance to call incoming. Honestly we will leave you in pieces. To you it might seem like a rarity, but to us this is a melody. My family tree is military grown with the blood of tyranny. So now everything seems like a conspiracy. Shout out to all the Delta Victors in Cameron County, in the RGV, and every vet in all the countries on this planet. Many will never understand, but as we stand under our creator know that He will make it much better. Over and out.

Eric Tizoc Danache was born and raised in San Benito, Texas to immigrant parents. He carried on the family tradition from his father and oldest brother and enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school in 1997, where he was a 54b stationed with the 82nd Airborne Division. He completed his enlistment in early 2000. Eric has two daughters, and enjoys writing and art.

Stolen Dreams

by Ryan J. Barry

My trembling fingers grabbed hair and skin and held on tightly as glass rained down on my neck and shoulders. I prayed that the dirty linoleum floor would open and swallow me to provide shelter from the shards. When I looked up, smoke and dust filled the room. The last partygoers ran out through the only door, about twenty yards away. A woman knocked over a candle as she ran out, and an inferno ignited instantly. Panic consumed me. Everything I could see was melting.

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An Interview with Benjamin Busch

(Reprinted from O-Dark-Thirty/The Review Volume 5, No. 4—Summer 2017.)

Benjamin Busch is an award-winning writer, actor, photographer, film director, former United States Marine Corps officer who served two tours of combat duty in Iraq, and the author of Dust to Dust: A Memoir (Ecco, 2013).

He played Officer Anthony Colicchio on the HBO series The Wire, his writing has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Harper’s, and he has been a guest commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered. A native of New York, he now lives on a farm in Michigan with his wife and two daughters. Nonfiction Editor Dario DiBattista, also a former Marine, spoke with Busch for O-Dark-Thirty.

O-Dark-Thirty: I know this is painfully vague, but what does “identity” mean to you? How does it relate directly to writing and acting?

Benjamin Busch: There are both internal senses and external applications of identity. The latter is how we relate to other people, a tribal identity, and we are either born into it, adopt it, feel we’ve earned membership in it, or had it forced on us. We add our professions and religions, our nations and race, our sex and sexuality. I can always tell when an identity hasn’t been given much thought, lives on the surface, can’t defend itself. Writers and actors make decisions about who their characters are and how much their identity is influential. They have to find ways inside, past civilization’s dense fabric of labels, to what a character can’t deny under scrutiny.

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